‘We did it the easy way’ – Great Escape film actor meets Stalag Luft III veteran

RAF Benevolent Fund

When John Leyton, now 83, starred in one of the most iconic war films of the 20th century, he knew the story they were telling was a real one. He played ‘Willie the tunnel king’ in The Great Escape, his character was based on several of the prisoners who will be remembered at a special screening of the film this weekend, to mark the 75th anniversary of the breakout.

John said:

“I have a huge amount of pride for the veterans. We did it the easy way, when we finished filming I went back to a hotel at night. We were very aware of the fact that we were filming a true story and the ending is tragic.”

John met with Bomber Command veteran Charles Clarke ahead of the screening to hear about his experiences being help captive in the prisoner of war camp, at the RAF Club.

He added:

“It is quite extraordinary that the film has become so iconic. It has got to be one of the most famous films made and is a wonderful testimony to the guys who were there.

“I would like people to remember the huge respect that we just have for these men. We owe the young men of that era so much. We should always remember what they did for us.”

In 1944, 76 men succeeded in tunnelling out of Stalag Luft III, a POW camp for mainly RAF personnel, through a 300-foot long tunnel which had taken years to dig. In the days that followed all but three of the men were recaptured, and 50 of them were shot under direct orders from Hitler.

The RAF Benevolent Fund will present a gala screening of The Great Escape at the Hammersmith Apollo on Sunday, 24 March, simulcast live into 350 cinemas nationwide. For tickets go to www.thegreatescape.co.uk

See also: Military support organisations

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